Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

Buy Now

Sustainable Music Series: The Carbon Culprits – Merch

Everyone remembers the first time they bought a band T-Shirt; proudly brandishing it on the train home from the gig, then wearing it on repeat until the holes under the armpits were so big that your mum told you it no longer met the standards of a functioning T-shirt – at which point you cut the sleeves off and made it a vest.

Artist merch is more than just clothing. Artists Merch is a memento, an artifact, a symbol, a branding, a statement, an association, an ideology, a unity, an identity, and so much more.

Though closely related to one’s fashion and personal style, artist merch cannot be worn simply for fashion purposes alone. Choosing to don an artist’s merch is a declaration of allegiance, which forms part of one’s identity, brandishing one as a member of an exclusive community of true fans. People take this stuff seriously, so if you are going to choose to wear an artist’s merch, you better be serious, because someone will ask you: “Name Three Songs!”

With this in mind, should we consider how our ideological beliefs around climate change and sustainability influence the merchandise we buy and the artists that we are associated with? Should artists be seeking more sustainable and innovative ways to produce their merch to align their views with their brand?

As the climate crisis hangs by a thread, it’s about time that we consider a more sustainable route, both environmentally and financially, for merch production and distribution.

For an industry that is responsible for the production of a colossal amount of clothing, the music industry manages to slip under the radar on this issue, letting the fashion industry take the brunt of the criticism, but in many ways, it is just as damaging.  

The amount of water, crude oil, plastics, and dangerous chemicals used in the production of clothing and merchandise alone, is enough to make merchandising one of the largest contributors to the music industry’s carbon footprint, but a fact you may not have considered is the amount of waste generated from this process. How often do you think an artist or band completely sells out of all of the merch they made for their most recent tour? The answer is: not often. So, what happens to all the leftover t-shirts, badges, and bags? Well, for the most part, they end up in landfill sites.

Similar to touring though, artists rely heavily on merch to make up a chunk of their income, so again it would be financially unsustainable to boycott artists’ merchandise. Luckily, this isn’t the only option!

Many artists are now actively pursuing more sustainable options when producing merchandise, partnering with suppliers who use more sustainable methods of production, while other artists are coming up with innovative ways to be more sustainable and reduce waste.

Some exciting examples include Sufjan Stevens partnering with Jungmaven, who uses sustainable materials such as hemp and organic cotton, while Bon Iver teamed up with Ambient Ink to produce more conscious merchandise.

Some of the more innovative ideas come from the likes of The 1975, who upcycled their old unsold tour merch with their latest album artwork, and offered fans the opportunity to bring their own band t-shirts to shows to be upcycled with new prints for free! This particular initiative came up when we caught up with Scott Helman earlier in the series to discuss his Evergreen project. During the interview, Scott credited the innovative ideas of The 1975 as being an inspiration on his plans for his own merch production.

Elsewhere, Bon Iver engaged with Looptworks to repurpose unsold tour merch as limited-edition backpacks and pillows, which they estimated saved 95 gallons of water per backpack and 20 gallons per pillow and avoided 0.3 pounds and 0.25 pounds of excess materials going to landfill per backpack and pillow respectively.

The solutions are out there guys and the paradigm shift is upon us. It’s time to start considering how we can do our part to influence change personally, within our communities, and globally. So, the next time you are at a merch stand, ask how it was made before deciding to part ways with your hard-earned cash.

Words by Darren Hay

Posted On 3 October, 2022